Cuphead immediately delights players with lovingly crafted visuals and presentations. The game charms players with cartoon graphics that would seem right at home in a 1930’s Disney animation project. But as much as Cuphead presents gorgeous visuals and characters at every turn, the brutal difficulty level fills the player with a mix of rage and admiration.
Cuphead is hard. Cuphead is brutally hard. Do not expect to defeat a single boss or level on your first try. Each experience within the game will take certain level of mastery before the player can declare victory over the googly eyed cartoon enemies.
On the surface, Cuphead is 2D boss rush style shoot ’em up. You control a character with a cup for a head, who after losing it all at the casino makes a deal with the devil. You then travel the land defeating different boss characters that owe the devil their soul. The presentation reminds me a 1930’s era cartoon with authentic film grain built into every scene. It charms the cup right out of your hand.
Cuphead divides the game into three different islands, each containing about 5 boss levels and 2 side scrolling shoot ’em up levels. As well as an extra difficult boss battle against King Dice and the Devil. The side scrolling levels retain the same level of difficulty as the boss levels, but lack a certain character that the boss levels contain.
Each boss character simply oozes color and personality. Each one more memorable than the last. You won’t soon forget the bosses either because of the number of times you will have to replay each of them.
The myth of Sisyphus, involves the titular character condemned to push a boulder up a never ending hill for eternity. If he ever reached the top of the hill, the boulder would just roll back down to be pushed up again. While this seems like the ultimate torture in futility. In order to retain any form of sanity, Sisyphus would have to find meaning within his cursed life.
And so the game of Cuphead is like a Sisyphusian examination of your self. Each boss battle solicits images of repeated pushing a boulder up a never ending hill. However, each time you retry the boss you get a little closer to the top.
Cuphead forces you to examine your own limitations. How many times will you repeat a boss battle before you give up? Sure each fight is more difficult than the last. Early bosses took about 10 minutes of trial and error before I emerged victorious, while later battles took closer to a half hour. On average most boss encounters took about 15 deaths before screaming in triumph.
Cuphead becomes meaningful every time you defeat a boss. The game makes you feel like you worked hard for a victory and you earned it. You might get frustrated and angry at the mechanics, but they always feel fair. You always feel like you have a chance, if only you could learn the patterns and predict the next attack.
The visual style and stunningly hand drawn animation will keep you playing. Even after countless deaths to the same boss, everything looks and sounds fantastic. If you can find meaning in the repetitious grind of Cuphead‘s eclectic band of 1930”s style characters, you will love this game.
I’m just waiting for the sequel when Cuphead and Mugman get spooned.